Jefferson Calls for a Fasting Day

When Jefferson decided to marry Martha Wayles Skelton, he chose an Anglican wedding that was conducted at the family plantation in Charles City County east of Richmond on January 1, 1772, by Rev William Coutts—a friend of Martha’s family. Up until 1774, the Jeffersons worshiped at Clear Mount Church but then switched to the new Forge Church (both served by Rev. Clay). The Forge Church was chosen by Jefferson and fellow-Burgess John Walker as the location for a 1774 special Fast Day service they requested on July 23. In a letter they sent “to the Inhabitants of the Parish of Saint Anne,” they asked for “…prayers and a sermon suited to the occasion by the reverend Mr. Clay at the new church.” This Fast Day was observed earlier on June 1 in Williamsburg in order to coincide with the closing of the port of Boston on that day by the British. Jefferson wrote much later in his autobiography that he was the one who initiated a resolution “Designating a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” that was adopted by the House of Burgesses on May 24.

The Public Fast day was necessary due to political conflict between the American colonies and England over taxation on tea and other products. The Boston Tea Party in Massahusetts led to a response by the King to blockade their harbor. A year later the first shots were fired and the American Revolution was in full motion. Jefferson’s Account book shows him giving money to Bruton Parish church in Williamsburg. It was then from a worshiper and supporter of the church that the Resolution suggested a special service be held there on June 1…”to implore the divine interposition …” regarding their national crisis. But Jefferson was not satisfied with only calling for prayer and fasting on the part of the Burgesses, thus, his request for another service back in Albemarle on July 23. That Christian worship service featured a sermon by Rev. Clay based on 2 Chronicles 7:14 that promises God will heal a land when His people humble themselves to pray and turn from their sin. In Jefferson’s autobiography, he said that a large crowd attended and that the day was like “…a shock of electricity, arousing every man …” to resist the tyranny of Britain.

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